Arming Private Security in Kenya

Some have even suggested arming the citizens given that the PSC in Uganda are armed. Some members of parliament asked the government to provide firearms to communities bordering troubled Somalia and Ethiopia and questioned the ability of the government to provide security.

We live in insecure times; all the three leading local papers have highlighted this problem in the last few months. The incidents or uses of arms in criminal activities are numerous, and in Ngong area of Nairobi, they have a common denominator: ruthless gangs operating with impunity. For the normal Kenyans, insecurity has seeped into the fabric of daily lives. The outgoing British Ambassador to Kenya recently noted  “Crime remains a scourge that blights the lives of all, rich and poor, from the shambas of the provinces to the offices of Nairobi and the homes of rich and poor in every town and village. Every day in Kenya, people are condemned to awake in fear and with little or no confidence in the ability of the institutions of law and order to protect them.”The notable economist John Stuart Mills declared that “security is the most vital of all interests and that security of person and property are the first needs of society”.

It must not be forgotten that privatising security implies the ceding of state sovereignty on matters of law and order and in resolving armed conflicts. It means privatising part of the state responsibilities, and the social contract to provide protection to individuals, communities and their properties. The most rational argument for PSCs is the inability of the state to fulfil its constitutional obligation to provide protection. In such a situation, the private security industry may have positive attributes in filling the void left by a failing state. But fortunately Kenya is not in this situation.

Any private firm is motivated by one factor, which is profit. It is not in their interests to protect the common citizens that need protection, but only to protect the rich. One can forsee that only places such as Muthaiga, Runda, and Lavington etc will get security and Kwangware, Mathare, Kibera, Dandora, and Eastlands etc will be left unprotected. The failure to provide security to such areas will cause vigilante to grow as the common man searches for ways to protect himself. Thus insecurity as a whole would be expected to increase.

Private security employees are frequently untrained and under no strict controls. The policy suffers with the same flaws as the arming of vigilantes. Increasing numbers of arms in the hands of private security companies will cause insecurity and the small arms race to escalate, as it is occurring already in most pastoral areas. Admittedly the police in Kenya are corrupt, and are misusing arms, as are the home guards. As David Mwenje the MP for Embakasi who also chairs the Parliamentary Committee on National Security told Parliament, “The police force is working hand in hand with thugs in the city whom he said were selling recovered guns for as little as Sh 300”. If the police are under regulation and are doing this, what is there to stop the private security companies who are less well regulated? Police are also well trained on the use of arms and most importantly on the rights of citizens. Lack of regulation would also be an implicit license for illegal behaviour by such private companies to engage in serious violation of human rights. The distinction between militia/vigilante and private security is regulation. Before private security companies can contribute to fostering the rule of law in Kenya, they must first be accountable to the general public.

In Uganda, private security companies are becoming an indispensable component. Their proliferation can be attributed to a unique historical background. From 1971-1986 Uganda was in conflict. It has also seen the rise of many insurgent groups, preying on communities. The Amin era was followed with uncertainty that saw the gradual shift of security from being the exclusive reserve of the police to including the army. The end of this situation in 1986 left a void in security that was a major challenge for President Museveni. One solution was a civilian arms training called mchaka mchaka, where every male citizen was trained to use arms. PSCs have since recruited people that know how to use arms, though they do not understand human rights issues. The PSCs in Uganda are problematic. Why not learn from the Ugandan experience instead of exporting it to Kenya?

Research done by African Peace Forum in 2002-2003 examining armed crimes in urban and rural areas in Kenya (Nairobi and Kitale) revealed the following facts about private security companies. Many companies are registered as businesses, and there is no clear regulations on the way in which they operate. Employees of PSC do no undergo vigorous background checks, on criminal records, military service records, personal references, and previous education claims like the police. Some private security companies have employed individuals with criminal records. Many burglaries could be linked to employees.

The solution is not arming the private security companies, but reform of the police, which should include rooting out bad characters, rewarding integrity and fostering professionalism. It is under the banner of police that security must march. MPs need to refrain from blaming the insecurity on police, and develop more conducive polices and an environment that would allow job creation for the many unemployed youths who see crime as the only solution. All existing development assistance programs should contribute efforts to prevent crime and help to tackle the “root causes.”  The government needs to develop strategies to ensure that the arms entry points into Kenya are well funded, to discourage bribes for smuggling arms into the country. Meanwhile, it should continue the fight to mop up the arms already circulating in the country. Private security companies should be encouraged to form a common front in the war against crime instead of being given guns.

The arming of PSCs is a quick fix solution meant to save the exchequer, but many flaws in their regulation are already evident. The proposal will encourage more importation of small arms into Kenya and could heighten inter-ethnic communal tensions as individuals join the small arms race and lead to mushrooming of the militia groups which we have seen in Somalia, Sudan, DRC and even Uganda.

Dr. Kennedy Mkutu works in the Peace Studies Department at the University of Bradford.